Change has been the order of the offseason for the Atlanta Thrashers, with a number of Stanley Cup winners joining the team and giving the Thrashers a more positive outlook than they'e often had while making the playoffs once in ten NHL seasons.
While optimism abounds in Atlanta, much of that optimism is based on the potential performance of their talented young players and while some will break through and perform at a high level, others will not; just how many of Atlanta's young guns live up to their potential this year could make the difference between a playoff berth and another season on the outside looking in.
The most proven commodity on the Thrashers, for fantasy purposes, may be goaltender Chris Mason, who had 57 wins and a .914 save percentage over the last two seasons in St. Louis.
While 34-year-old Mason seems like the safer bet in the Atlanta net, he does have to compete with 23-year-old Ondrej Pavelec for playing time and if Pavelec, the goaltender of the future, can handle the starter's workload, then Mason may not see as much action as he has in recent seasons.
Veteran centre Nik Antropov surprised with a career-high 67 points last season, including a point-per-game after the Thrashers traded away Ilya Kovalchuk. Coming off hip surgery, however, it's difficult to expect that Antropov will be even more productive this year.
Rich Peverley has 90 points in 121 games since getting claimed on waivers by the Thrashers, and he may have to produce more if Antropov isn't ready at the start of the season, but last year's 55 points was a career-high, so he may left to the fringes of fantasy value depending on league depth.
The rest of the forwards tend to fall under the "potential" umbrella.
Evander Kane had but 26 points as a rookie, but did it as an 18-year-old with limited ice time. If he starts getting some power play time and perhaps playing 16-17 minutes a game, a big jump in production is possible. The fact that he also plays a hard-nosed power forward's game means that his penalty minutes could help his fantasy cause as well.
Assuming Niclas Bergfors gets signed to a new contract, the 23-year-old will have a chance to build on a 44-point rookie season. Bergfors played a bigger role in Atlanta than he did in New Jersey, which could mean a nice bump in his numbers over a full year.
Assuming an increase for Bergfors is risky, however; just ask Bryan Little, who scored 31 goals in 2008-2009 then slumped to 13 goals and 34 points last season. Little could be a candidate for a bounceback season, but with low penalty minute totals and a minus rating every year he's been in the NHL, he may be waiver wire material for fantasy.
Power forward Dustin Byfuglien showed in the playoffs that he can be a force in front of the net and, after scoring 11 goals in 22 playoff games, there are expectations that he could break through and be a 30-goal scorer if given the opportunity.
Of some concern, though, is that the Thrashers may still be considering Byfuglien for a spot on defence, his natural position, which would cut into his production. The sneaky part of Byfuglien's fantasy value is that he could have defence eligibility, yet if he ends up on the wing, well, that's an obvious advantage.
There is some value to be had among the Thrashers' other defencemen. Tobias Enstrom doesn't miss any games (82 a year in each of his three seasons) and scored a career-high 50 points last year. He's a mobile power play quarterback who can be a good fit as a No. 3 on fantasy squads.
Zach Bogosian slumped in his second season, but expectations will be very high for the talented 20-year-old this year. Bogosian can score and put up penalty minutes, but needs to get more power play time and improve on last year's minus-18 if he's going to reach his, wait for it...potential.
Atlanta Thrashers Projected Depth Chart
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen.